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||You are on Week 411
Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...
We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!
Story Four Hundred Eleven Ends Friday, April 24
The ice castle stood on a slight hill in Happy Valley, glittering in the chilly Terror Mountain sun. Salen's eyes widened as she tried to take the huge ice sculpture in -- the turrets, battlements, windows with a filigree of icicles over them. It was beautiful, but to the Lutari, who was more accustomed to vine-swathed huts and warm springs, it was completely alien.
"Come on, Salen," Arri urged, "don't you want to go inside? It's amazing in there -- there are real rooms, and there's even a maze at the bottom, all made of ice!"
Easy for him to get excited, Salen thought. Arri was a Bori, well-used to the cold of Terror Mountain. Salen still felt out of place, even after seeing Mr. Chipper happily manning his Ice Cream Cart. Arri squeezed her paw encouragingly, and she tried to smile. "OK, let's go in."
The inside of the ice castle was even more beautiful than the outside, its walls all pale blue and pearly, lightly sheened with a layer of melted ice. The place was teeming with other Neopets, their cheeks red from the cold, all of them smiling and singing happily.
"Let's go to the maze!" Arri cried, dragging Salen by the paw. Together, they went down a long, blue-green tunnel of ice, their claws scrabbling on the slippery surface. Salen's feet were swept from beneath her, her paw was torn from Arri's, and she landed flat on her back on the ice. Arri, either not noticing that she had fallen or expecting that she'd get up to follow him right away, darted farther into the great labyrinth of ice.
"Hurry up, Salen! It's incredible in here!"
Salen dragged herself to her feet, her claws sliding on the ice, and slowly made her way into the maze. Arri was nowhere in sight.
"Arri!" The sound of her voice bounced off the translucent walls and came back to her, the only answer she received.
In spite of her coat and her thick Lutari fur, Salen started to shiver. Tears froze on her eyelashes. Where was Arri? It was so cold. On Lutari Island, it was spring, flowers blooming everywhere and the breeze off the sea warm and sweet. Why had she agreed to come to Terror Mountain anyway? She blinked; her eyelids felt strangely heavy. What if she couldn't find her way out? What if she...
Author: A Chilly Story on a Hot Day|
Date: Apr 20th
...what if she succumbed to the sweet senseless void of hypothermia?
Cold so intense, cold so primordial as to freeze the tears on Salen's eyelashes had the Lutari sinking fast into a hypothermic torpor. It had not been nearly so cold a few minutes ago -- this cold was painful, it broke the air Salen breathed into puffs of icy breath that crystallised and shattered with a minute tinkle on the maze's icy floor.
The maze. Somehow in the depths of Salen's cold-numbed brain, the smooth rounded walls became tunnel-like until she felt as though she were traveling amidst the preternaturally frozen coils of the Snowager himself. A labyrinthine twist-up of hollow sub-arctic tunnels, what else could the place be...? What else?
Salen caught herself just as her eyes had drifted shut and almost been sealed tight by the ice crystals endemic to the place. She forced them open and breathed deeply, willing dangerous sleep and ridiculous thoughts away. What was she thinking, that she was travelling in the Snowager's entrails? Absurd. Absolutely absurd...
Unbelievably, the temperature dropped another notch, tightening its grip on Salen's consciousness like an iron fist ensconced in a soft mitten. It was inexorable, this urge to sleep, this urge to let her brain disassociate itself from the here and now...
Island-child, here at last. You come to me from a land of hothouse flowers, of steam and shells, from a wet land that sprouts upward under the strength of its own greenness, to this land, my land, a land beyond the northern lights, a land that dares not be a colour but stark and white...
I want your sunshine, Island-child. I want the lush green, I want to drink the Island colours, flowers, petaled gems. I want the smell of rain before it hits.
You must bring that Island vitality to me, child. Come to me at the centre of the maze. I wait at the last curve of the tunnels, these Snowager-coils of another kind. The way is fraught with danger -- 'ware the fissures, the icicles, the ice-dwellers -- but I need your help, Island-child... to bring colour to this land, this land paler than the rising moon, this land whitened by frost...
I am drawing your Bori friend to me, if only to entice you. Daughter of the Island, won't you come to me too?
The temperature in the maze normalised itself with an almost audible pant of warmth at the same instant as Salen's benumbed brain was released from the grip of a mind far stronger than her own.
Her mind reeled -- she was no Island-child, only a Lutari tourist up for a visit. This was an unusual occurrence in itself, true, but still... Salen stared down the passage. Something told her that calling for Arri again would be fruitless. And so Salen began to run, sharp Lutari claws clicking on the ice in a rapid rhythm that spoke of Island dances and a sun heroic in a yellow sky...
Date: Apr 20th
It seemed strange to the Lutari that seconds ago the glacial labyrinth had appeared to be a bewildering series of serpentine coils, each rounded turn more confusing than the next. Now a strange instinct guided her frantic steps. Somehow she simply knew that she was drawing ever closer to the heart of the strange tangle of arctic tunnels, ever closer to... to...
To that voice...
Salen closed her eyes momentarily, forced to consider whether bowing to the whim of a strange and invisible presence was wise. On the familiar molten sands of Lutari Island, she was the first to run off and seek adventure, the first to lead a dash through the humid jungle in hopes of finding something exciting. Here... here the air was thin and brisk, the frozen spirals shimmering with malice, uninviting and bleak. She had no doubt nothing good could be found in this frozen realm, nor that the wish of the strange presence to enjoy a sunlit paradise could end well.
And yet... her feet did not stop moving.
It wasn't the dream of adventure that drove the Lutari's feet forward, claws scraping urgently at the glistening surface below. Nor was it the demands of a creature she couldn't see, which had with ease reduced its realm to a gelid cage that so easily could have become a glassy tomb.
It was Arri. Innocent, fun-loving Arri, who had been so excited to visit the famed palace of crystal ice. Arri who for weeks had spoken of nothing but the fun they would have and the things they might see. Arri, who each week wrote her letters from his Terror Mountain home, reminding his friend of their previous journeys to Mystery Island and Faerieland and suggesting, hinting, and pleading that their next adventure might take place in the castle he had seen often, but never visited. It was Arri who drove her on.
For nobody else would she leave the warmth of home and visit a place like this. For nobody else would she remain here after the terrifying experience that had coiled her in its grasp mere seconds ago.
Salen's feet led her through the winding, complex series of shimmering walls and tunnels as if they had a mind of their own. She didn't fight it, somehow knowing resistance would be nothing but a drain on her strength, which she might regret later. Better to let her feet guide her toward whatever sought her presence in such a sinister manner.
Slowly the air seemed to grow thinner, the Lutari's breath shorter and shallower as she exhaled. Although the penetrating chill of the area remained brisk enough to burrow past Salen's fur and nip at her very heart, the eerie, suffocating cold of earlier had well and truly dissipated. Had it not been for that strange voice, the Lutari may have been tempted to believe the experience nothing more but a dream.
The walls of the maze narrowed slightly, leading the Lutari up a glistening incline. Her claws scrambled at the ice, desperate to sink through the scintillating sheen of the ice as easily as they slid through the island's golden sand or filtered the cobalt streams of the ocean. Bit by bit the Lutari made her way upward until the ground beneath her suddenly levelled out and the maze came to a rather abrupt end.
The structure was as glassy and frozen as the rest of the maze, though a strange, serpent-shaped door knocker hung directly in the centre of it. As the Lutari leant closer she could almost make out strange markings along the knocker, little etchings carved into the ice.
Terror seemed to wring at Salen's very soul. What if she opened the door and Arri wasn't there? What if it drew her in, never to be seen again?
You have nothing to fear, Island-child. I do not wish you harm. I seek the warmth you take for granted, the caresses of a breeze kissed by the fading sun, the rhythmic beat of the ocean drumming the endless sands. Within dwells what you seek and if you enter, what I seek shall dwell here, too...
Salen closed her eyes, willing herself to lift a trembling paw whose vibrations had nothing to do with the glittering cold toward the door knocker and strike it. Slowly, the massive structure creaked and protested, the outline of the door sending delicate shavings of ice flying toward the Lutari, who stepped back and watched the door grind open...
Date: Apr 21st
She was not sure quite what she had expected, but she knew that this was not it.
Before her lay an island paradise.
Before her lay golden sand and verdant foliage and brilliantly coloured flowers.
Warmth flowed forth from the doorway, and Salen soaked it up eagerly. She could hear the crash of waves and the calls of jungle birds. She could smell tropical fruits, ripe and ready to be plucked by eager paws.
It was home.
It was more than home. Lutari Island was a wonderful place, certainly, but this world in the middle of the maze was brighter and more beautiful.
It did not seem as though it could be a real island -- it seemed more like the ideal of what a tropical island should be.
She stepped onto the sand -- pleasantly warm, but not hot enough to hurt -- and made her way toward the trees.
Her earlier urgency all but faded away. She still wanted to find Arri, but there was no rush. She knew he must be somewhere in here. He was surely in no danger. She knew this place was safe on a level far deeper than the conscious one.
He would turn up, eventually.
Leisurely, she picked a fruit from a tree as she passed by. She didn't recognise it, but it smelled delicious.
Salen took a bite. It was juicy, sweet, and cold (this last bit should have struck her as odd, considering how warm it had felt in her paw, but it did not). It reminded her of every fruit she'd ever eaten or wanted to.
Sighing happily, she wandered deeper into the jungle, not noticing as the door behind her faded from existence.
The shade was refreshingly cool, and Salen was struck by the desire to curl up under a tree and take a quick nap.
Just for a few minutes, of course. Then she'd get right back up and start looking for her Bori friend again.
Plopping down under another tree laden with the same fruit she'd sampled earlier, she leaned against the trunk and folded her paws.
Then she sprang to her feet, all thought of sleep forgotten as a fog seemed to recede from her mind.
How had she not noticed it before? Had she truly been so addled by the perfection of her surroundings?
There, on the same path she had been walking, was a line of Bori pawprints...
Date: Apr 21st
...she tore along the path like a fire through a trail of wood, thinking how she could have possibly even thought of taking a nap when Arri was somewhere beyond her reach, perhaps in danger. A vicious feeling tugged at Salen's heart; it had been as if she was under somebody's spell...
What could have possibly come over her? She felt confused; the excitement of finding a place so much like home had faded now and she was left with a heart that beat too quickly -- wondering, thinking, sick of not knowing.
She continued to follow the Bori footprints, which led down the path and through a thicket of berry bushes. There was a kind of burning inside her; where would he be? When she saw him, would he bound out grinning, to her relief, telling her of lovely adventures or would he be white-faced and shaken?
Around the lake Salen went, slipping clumsily on a loose stone. One paw sank into the water and she yelped, stumbling back. The water bit at her with icy coldness; it was like dipping your paw in a bowl of ice, and yet the lake looked warm and welcoming in the pretty island sun. Salen thought back to the fruit she had eaten, how it had felt so warm but tasted like December frost...
The footprints stopped abruptly just across the lake. Ahead of that there was a forest of twisting vines and tough roots, too thick for someone to fight through. Salen knelt down next to where Arri's footprints had stopped and studied the spot. There was a line, heavy at first but then lightened into nothing as if somebody had been taken by the hand and dragged off their feet from the ground into the sky.
Salen put one paw down and touched the place where her friend had left the ground. Arri! Arri, where have you gone?...
Date: Apr 22nd
…And then the mysterious voice spoke again. It came from no concrete source, and was not even auditory in nature; instead, it permeated Salen's mind, as if some power was writing its thoughts directly into her brain.
Enjoying my creation, Island-child? Are the sands as warm as those of your home? Are the trees as lush, the fruits as sweet?
"What's going on," shouted Salen, "and what have you done with Arri?"
All in good time, Island-child. I will explain all when I see fit. For now, try and enjoy the paradise I have created. It is as close to your world as I have been able to come. There are some… flaws, however.
As the voice said this, Salen's beautiful surroundings flickered and suddenly disappeared. The Lutari looked around to see that she was actually in yet another room of ice, glittering and cruelly cold. The temperature dropped as well, from a balmy heat to a bitter, biting chill. Just as suddenly as it had vanished, though, the beach reappeared and the temperature soared.
"So the fruit, and the water… this is just an illusion?" asked Salen, hoping the mysterious voice would respond.
Yes. The voice sounded almost wistful. Long ago, I lived in this place. I called that forest home; I swam in those waters. Now all I have are memories. Memories and, of course, my spells. I created this fantasy from my recollections, but it is not enough, never enough for me. I still long for the warmth, the island sun, the sweet kiss of sunset on a beach. And only you can return that to me.
"Why me," asked Salen, falling to her knees and almost in tears. "And what does this have to do with Arri? And who are you?"
It is inconsequential who I am. But, if it helps, you may think of me as the spirit of this castle. A living soul trapped within walls of ice and snow, longing for release. And do not worry, Island-child, your friend is safe. I am merely keeping him here as… collateral. Bring me your sun-warmth, your sandy beaches, your tropical breezes, and I shall release him.
"But why me?" cried Salen. "Why am I so special?"
You are not the first I have summoned, oh, no. Dozens of others before you have I begged, pleaded with to do my bidding, to bring me the sweet release of warmth. But every one of them either declined or failed. And that is why you are special. You have a friend. A way for me to compel you to aid me. Salen gazed at the footsteps in the illusory sand before her. Do not consider me malicious for what I have done to your friend; it is merely that I hunger for the sun-warmth so deeply, so all-consumingly, that I needed some assurance that you would assist me. So to you I pose a question: will you bring me what I need?
"I don't really have a choice, do I?" Salen asked bitterly.
Of course you have a choice. You always have a choice. You can aid me, or you can leave your companion here in my clutches. I will not judge you if you choose the latter.
"I could never leave Arri," said Salen, rising to her feet. "But how would I go about helping you? How can I change an entire land's climate?"
It is actually quite simple, Island-child. All you must do is…
Date: Apr 22nd
...find the heart of this place and put your warmth into it.
Salen's brows furrowed together in a frown. "But if I put my warmth into it," she asked, "what will become of me?"
A long silence followed her question, as though the spirit was hesitant to answer. Then, when Salen was already sure that she would not receive another reply, the voice whispered into her head, Do not fear the change. You will suffer no harm. On your way to my castle, you saw Mr. Chipper. Have you never wondered how a Lutari was able to live in the coldest region of Neopia? Devoid of warmth, you will join your Bori friend on Terror Mountain. Snow and ice will be your kingdom, the sun on Lutari Island will burn unnaturally hot for you. You will not be able to stand such heat anymore.
But despite those changes, the sacrifices are small when it comes to your reward. Think about Arri. Remember your Bori friend laughing with you. Think of all those letters he wrote to you, the places you have seen together. Could you live with knowing that you gave up on him because you refused to do me a favour?
A shiver ran down Salen's spine. Her tail trembled as her mind took in the words. She remembered Mr. Chipper, standing behind his ice cart and greeting her cheerily. He had not looked unhappy, and yet she could not deny the discomfort she had felt at seeing him standing on ice. Lutaris did not belong on Terror Mountain. The sun-loving pets were born to swim in the warm sea around their island, to climb on trees and eat fruits so ripe that juice dripped from them the moment Salen's teeth pierced their skin.
Was she ready to give up on all this?
Did she even have a choice? Her eyes travelled once more to the marks in the sand. Arri had been here, just before she had passed by. He had stood on the same shore. Had he seen the illusion? Had he been aware of the spell placed on him or had he not even noticed when he had been swept away from the beach?
"You're asking for everything that defines my life. Warmth, sun, the water. Everything."
So now you know how life feels for me. I cannot walk on the beach anymore, bury my toes into the sand. Feeling sun rays caress my skin has been denied to me for too long. Bring it back to me and I will bring back your friend.
Salen swallowed hard. She knew what she had to do. "So where do I find the heart of this place?..."
Date: Apr 23rd
I'm afraid I cannot tell you. It's something you must find on your own.
Salen's heart sank. "But-"
Do not worry, Island-child, for you already know where it is.
Salen was about to protest again, but the truth hit her like a cold blast of wind. Where else could it be? She gazed at the lake, the sparkling frigid waters, the only place untouched by the artificial heat...
Very good, Island-child. Now this is where we part. I'm afraid I can no longer help you, every step left for you to take you must do on your own. Good luck...
The voice faded into infinity. The distant birdsong resumed. Salen stood there, staring down at the footprints, the place where Arri, her Arri, had been taken away from her. Sunlight wove gold into her fur. She raised a paw to the source, tracing shadows in the sand. She tore her gaze from the ground, staring at the distant forest and cobalt sky and endless parade of chromatic flowers. It was so hard to believe that something so beautiful was nothing more than an illusion.
This place... it looked so much like home. Except a thousand times more magnificent.
She had never felt so alone.
Salen turned away from the paradise and walked toward the lake. She flinched as she dipped her foot into the water. It was cold. So cold...
She had been so certain that nothing could surpass the beauty of this utopia. She was wrong. So very wrong.
There were few things she hated more than the cold. And as Salen sunk into the icy lake, the chilling water seeping all around her, she thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world. The cold surpassed the flowers and the trees and the sand-swept dunes. It was lovelier than the sky and the jungle and everything the voice wove together to form the illusion.
She longed for the ice and the snow and the bitterness of the mountain air. She longed for the frost-covered windows and the ivory sky.
She longed for reality.
The water was up to her neck now. Liquefied winter. One more step and she would be completely submerged. Salen started to tremble, her shivers sent ripples crisscrossing over the lake. From the cold? Or from something else? She had no idea anymore...
Salen stared into the water. Deep and dark as a winter night. She shuddered. She was more likely to pass out from the cold than find the heart...
Nothing could make her dive in. Nothing. Nothing except for one, single thing.
And in the end, that was all that mattered.
I'm coming, Arri...
Date: Apr 23rd
Pure, frigid iciness. All was ice. It was simply a fact of life, inescapable.
Cold wreathed her as swiftly as the tropical breezes she was used to, only so much sweeter. Bleak, frigid waters brought to her a sudden clarity, a pain that made her feel more alive than she ever had felt dancing in island festivities or lazing on a pleasant beach.
Salen craved it, embraced the frozen pool's caress. She knew she was about to lose everything she'd cherished. It didn't matter.
Arri was waiting.
Downward she swam, the water seeming like air to her as she breathed. Crisp, freezing air. The voice's magic was wreathing her, helping her in this final march before she lost everything she had cared about.
Everything except one thing, one Neopet, one that could trump everything else.
The freezing temperatures that scalded her were beautiful. So much more beautiful than a blackmailer's illusion, than a world she had to lose. What business did they have trying to compare? They didn't belong to her, not anymore.
She could see an icy pillar now, at the bottom of the lake, and she paddled all the harder...
...and choked as icy water flooded her lungs. The breath came back out, laced with fluid as precious air spiralled up tauntingly toward to lake's top. The cold of the water crashed down on her like a falling meteor, her ability to take an odd pleasure in it washed away by the light current.
The voice came again. It cannot work while I cast my spell on you. Do it.
Salen floundered, suddenly panicking. The surface was so far above -- there was no way she could make it. With the sudden absence of magically influenced certainty, doubt rushed in, stronger than it would have naturally been. Blackness flickered at the edges of her vision. She needed to breathe, to think...
Visions and sensations of the island she loved so deeply danced before her eyes, the leafy jungles, the feathery sands underfoot...
It was possessing me, she realised with a jolt. I don't want this! There has to be another way to save Arri, to give this monster his island dream without losing mine...
The icy pedestal stood a few feet below her, and as she looked closer, she saw that it was not a pillar but a statue made of purest ice. A delicately carved likeness painted in water-washed, dancing hues of blue and green, wavering reflections of a lying sky.
A likeness of a Bori...
Date: Apr 24th
Arri, Salen thought numbly.
It is strange how when one's life is close to being whisked away, time seems to speed up. As Salen felt her warmth and breath steadily ebb away, her mind started to whirl a hundred times as fast, trying to cram years of experience into the final few seconds...
Memories rushed around her in a gripping swirl, dragging her down, down to the origin. Down to where Arri was...
Arri, sliding gracefully down the frozen hillside to the dock, arms held wide, small eyes shining. Arri with the lively, shell-shaped ears, the adventurous smile, the eager voice. Arri, with whom she had explored the shimmering forests of Mystery Island, the lofty clouds of Faerieland. Arri, who had bought her a Chocolate Chip Cookie Slushie at the Slushie Shop, who had taken her to see the Neggery. Arri, who had done everything he could think of to help her feel at ease, to share with her at least a small slice of the great wonder and enthusiasm he cherished in his heart.
Arri, who had called excitedly to her back there in the maze, "It's incredible in here!"
Water pressed against her eyes. Air pressed out of her throat. Lutaris could stay underwater longer than most Neopets, but this, this was agony...
More water. Were these her tears? How much longer could she last? She felt as though her very body was being dissolved, into water, flowing away, becoming senseless.
And she fell gently beside the statue, touching its beautiful face.
But not Arri. Only an image of him. Only an illusion -- no more. She had been tricked, and now it was too late.
The surface was too far away. The bottom of the lake was so smooth, so eternal, so peaceful. She could lie here forever, here where pain and joy melded together, where dream and reality became one and the same, where the cold mattered no more.
The cold mattered no more!
Startled, Salen tried to move, get up, swim to the surface, back among the trees and the flowers and the sunshine. Arri wasn't here. Oh, Arri wasn't here! How could she have fallen prey to that voice, how could she have come so deep into this spell and given her most precious warmth away?
The voice came again, like music, this time sharp and real.
"Thank you. The lake has accepted your gift, and already the flowers are blooming. Oh, the transformation is taking place... I can feel it in my awakened body. Child of the Island, you have become a Child of the Mountain."
But where is Arri? This isn't Arri!
Her cry ebbed into the water, soundless.
The voice was laughing.
"Oh, I am free. For ages and ages have I slept within the Snowager's curse, my living heart confined to a cage. I was an adventurer once, like you, young and bold, till the coldness claimed me. Oh, how fresh the summer air feels, how soft the flowers are against my skin. I can be Kendrak the Aisha again..."
You betrayed me, thought Salen numbly. You have put me in your place.
"I had a friend too," said Kendrak, from somewhere beyond the water. "Gradolf. I miss Gradolf. May your dreams be with you, dear child. Your friend will remember you, and if you are lucky, someday you will be released, too."
Arri, cried Salen, in the dark, eternal depths. Please tell Arri!
But Kendrak's retreating footsteps were the only answer.
Out in the glimmering snow, Mr. Chipper was still selling ice cream. This time of day, business was best, when the tourists came out of the ice castle eager for refreshment. Among them was a familiar-looking young Bori.
"Weren't you here earlier with your Lutari friend?" Mr. Chipper asked curiously, making a scoop of ice cream for Arri.
Arri nodded sadly. "She's lost," he said. "I alerted the museum authorities and led a search group, but we couldn't find her. There was, however, a sprig of fresh flowers in the centre of the maze... very, very strange. It's as if Salen just up and flew away." He accepted the ice cream. "She was never made for this climate," he reflected, licking the ice cream. "I tried my best to make her happy, but all she would do was complain and shiver. So I guess she's entered some sort of alternate realm, away from me and my home... it's a shame, really. We had such fun adventures once."
Mr. Chipper thought he remembered something, but it was far too long ago. He shook his head and called to the next customer. "Well, life goes on," he said.
Life goes on, indeed. As Arri walked away into the whirling wind, as Salen waited at the bottom of the lake, as Kendrak moved on to enjoy life once more... time moved on.
All Salen had loved was an illusion, just like the illusion she had thrown herself into. Time will move on for her, until her passions fade away, until someone else comes to free her, one day.
Date: Apr 24th
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